I lived in New Mexico for 10 years. One of the forms of Hispanic art that I found most interesting were the iconic portraits the local artists called retablos. They were painted on wood, usually scenes or depictions of Mary, Jesus and Guadalupe. They were like innocent renditions of the beautiful, glowing religious icons that have come out of Russia for so long.
A friend dropped by one day, and asked me to paint a stylized portrait of her on wood, with antiqueing and gold leaf around the edges.
I had collected a pile of old wood from all over Madrid, Taos, Cerrillos and Tesuque, wondering what to do with it. I went out back of the house where I was staying, where I had stashed my pile, and started nosing through it, choosing appropriate pieces.
Found one! Hah! Instead of carving the wood, I decided to try and paint her portrait on one of them to see how it would come out. It was wonderful! (Right - Golden Mama - 12" wide, oils on wood with gold leaf.)
So after that, I thought I’d try more. I liked the idea of the warmth of the wood, and the depth of color the paint had attained in her portrait. And instead of religious retablos, I decided to paint a series of non-religious, spirit-based images.
I primed the wood so the acids in it wouldn’t eventually yellow the paint. Then I just used a layering technique to slowly apply the colors. Starting with an under-drawing in sienna (rusty brown), I worked up from light and dark yellows to reds to blues. After the painting dried, I gilded the edges of the wood, which I had cut in a kind of cathedral arch.
At the time, I was living in Tesuque (pron. Tess-OO-kee), an art-rich neighborhood/town (where the well-known Shidoni Bronze Foundry is) just north of Santa Fe, when I made these. (Right: Raven Speaks - 13" high, oils on wood with gilded edges)
It was an extremely hard time in my life. I had lost my home, I was experiencing really bad health, and I was deeply depressed and unhappy.
And it was bloody COLD, too! People seem to think of New Mexico as desert, which should = warm. But nope! Santa Fe itself was at 7000 feet – too cold for my bones!
Being able to paint these gave me a sense of relief and satisfaction in the midst of a long period of deep despair and raging, non-stop emotional turmoil.
Not being inclined to any particular established religion, I chose to create archetypal and allegorical images that express how connected I believe we can and ought to be with our natural surroundings.
I like the feeling of connection between human and animal in these pieces, and how they are powerful yet contemplative in spirit. (Left: Conversation - 18" high, oils on wood with gilded edges)
You can get prints of some of these paintings here on this website. Look for the TABLITOS tab in one of the prints lists.